Draft season is a 12-month long grind. There’s always some type of news or content that is out every day, and with that being said, it’s certainly no different this year. The draft is headlined by Canadian centermen Shane Wright and Conor Geekie, Finnish winger Brad Lamber, HC Plzen defenseman David Jiricek, and many more. There are, however, a long list of notable players in North America who aren’t getting talked about as much and who might end up going high in the NHL Entry Draft.
Pano Fimis, C – Niagara (OHL)
Fimis is a prospect, among many, who were brought up through the Toronto Junior Canadiens program. The five-foot-ten center from Richmond Hill, ON is among the more aggressive north-south skaters in this draft and could climb into the top half of the first round if he continues to develop in his first OHL season with the Niagara IceDogs. He has a wide range of abilities, but the two that stick out are his skating, as well as his natural instincts. When Fimis is allowed to go on the ice and play, he’s often creating plays by either pursuing the puck in a more defensive role, or rushing it from end-to-end in a more offensive role. He’s often seen as a player who adapts to his assignments and could succeed in other ways should he be unable to get on the scoresheet.
Ty Nelson, D – North Bay (OHL)
The first overall pick from the 2020 OHL Draft was labelled as part of the next wave of scoring defensemen. His abilities with the puck are reminiscent of star offensive blue liners such as Cale Makar, Adam Fox and Co. He possesses a handful of high end qualities such as skating and puck moving, which elevate his potential above his peers, and make him a threat at all times when he’s on the ice. A prospect projected to be in the middle of the first round, Nelson has the abilities to take over games, and due to that X-factor, he’s a candidate to climb up the draft rankings as the season progresses.
Nathan Gaucher, C- Quebec (QMJHL)
The pride of Longueuil, Quebec, Gaucher is a big body forward who can play different styles of hockey and plays a sound two-way game. Gaucher is a very visible player on the ice, both stature and play wise. His top qualities are his compete level and his hockey IQ and both are used on every shift in every corner of the ice. He’s able to read plays and make quick decisions based off of what he sees. He’s often shifting and adjusting on the ice, while defenders lose coverage and leave him alone, where he can be dangerous in tight and in and around the net. He’s not fast, nor does he posses quick footwork, but he does have a strong stride and it’s hard to keep up when he’s committed to a path on the ice. He’s believed to be a better scorer than playmaker, but he has oddly equal amounts of goals to assists, a dual threat offensively.
Tristan Luneau, D – Gatineau (QMJHL)
The six-foot-two defenseman from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec has become a vital part of the Gatineau Olympiques. His demeanour and poise on the ice and playing style is reminiscent of prime Drew Doughty; strong defensively with the ability to move the puck and be depended upon in key moments of the game. What Luneau has over Doughty playing wise is better power play instincts. Luneau is a lot more comfortable with stoping, shifting and making multiple decisions while maning the point. He has become an excellent power play quarterback and distributes the puck smoothly to his teammates, but does choose to shoot the puck when he is believed to have an opening.
Tyler Brennan, G – Prince George (WHL)
Tyler Brennan is regarded as one of the top goalie prospects in the 2022 NHL Draft. The six-foot-three Winnipeg native is a technique orientated goalie who relies on his positioning and squares up to shooters to stop pucks. His lateral movement and return to position looks slow, but Brennan prefers to get to his spot effortlessly and maintain energy and stamina instead of rushing and not being poised for upcoming shots. He is, however, able to make acrobatic saves when needed, but they don’t often occur. Brennan plays for a Prince George team that has strong hopes for this season and a lot of their success will depend on how well their netminder plays.
Rutger McGoarty, C – USNTDP (USHL)
Not only does he have a great name, but Rutger McGoarty has a great skillset too. He’s a big body forward who plays with skill and intensity every time he’s on the ice. The six-foot, 205 pound center from Lincoln is a dynamo on the ice. His key qualities are his use of his body and his balanced offensive style, which often result in mismatches and pucks in the back of the net. Rutger has been a consistent point producer at every level going back almost a decade and has shown growth in other parts of his game such as puck protection and puck retrieval, as he’s moved up to higher competition. His U15 AAA year was his biggest jump in production, where he recorded 160 points in 63 games, split evenly at 82 goals and 78 assists. He’s always been a balanced forward, and adding size and the ability to play a straight line game makes him a dangerous player on every shift.
Logan Cooley, C – USNTDP (USHL)
A skill-based player, Cooley is often the most noticeable player on the ice, no matter what level of hockey he’s playing at. He has a playing style similar to Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin; a game focused around skating and moving the puck, while he’s a strong transition player and possesses a quick release. Cooley excels at generating plays both off transition and the cycle in the opponents zone. His mobility and stick handling allows him to open himself up to a lot more options, and his passing is his main attribute over shooting. Cooley is also another player who went through the U.S. development program as a way to work on his game and make noise heading into his draft year, which he has certainly done thus far. He’s committed to the University of Notre Dame, where he’ll continue to develop his high flying skilled game.
Jack Hughes, C – Northeastern (NCAA)
Another Hughes enters the NHL Draft radar with no direct relation to the other three that went before him. This Jack Hughes, who’s playing for the Northeastern Huskies in the NCAA’s Hockey East division, is ranked among the more mature players in this draft. Having the title of “responsible two-way center” is often thought of as players that are good defensively with a limited offensive ceiling, which is the opposite of what Jack Hughes is. Though he is in fact responsible, he’s also a scoring chance generator. He’s primarily a puck possession player with a quick trasitional ability and strong up ice skating. With him already being in Northeastern’s lineup, he’s already a step forward in his development.
Frank Nazar, RW – USNTDP (USHL)
An undersized forward who prides himself off of quick plays and counter attacking, Nazar is a versatile winger who’s extremely noticeable and involed on the ice. The pride of Mt. Clements, Michigan can play up and down the lineup in multiple roles and with any type of skilled players. One thing common amongst smaller forwards is the desire to drive to the net and in danger areas around it, which Nazar does consistently. His primary skating path is down the middle and often cuts into the slot for a better angle to shoot or sometimes pass it to his teammates. He’s not afraid to get into crowded areas with bigger and stronger opponents, and his fearless approach is one of his strong character traits, which his teammates love about him, as well as coaches and members of management. Nazar scores high in both intangible and tangible charts. His character and fearlessness is what stands out most as intangible, and his high motor and net driving ability are at the summit of his tangible abilities. A playing style similar to longtime NHL player Brian Gionta.
Ryan Chesley, D – USNTP (USHL)
The six-foot, 194 pound defenseman from Minnesota is among the easiest to scout prospects in this draft. His steady skating, simple decision making and low turnover playing style have him among the more stable prospects in this draft. He’s a defender who likes being in tight, and close to the opposing puck handler, and limits the options for them. An aspect of his game that’s overlooked is how quickly he gets the puck off up the ice to his teammates to start a rush. He’s by no means an offensive-minded defenseman, though he does possess a strong shot and uses it quite frequently. He makes strong first passes and can keep a cycle going offensively. He’s among the better defenders in this draft.
There’s a lot of time for things to change in the draft, but one thing is certain, there is some serious talent available at the top of the draft, especially in North America. There is a high chance that most of these players will move up and down as the season progresses, but all of them have something unique that makes them attractive options to scouts and talent evaluators. There’s also a strong chance we get updates for these prospects throughout the year to keep up with their progression and development.